The SHAKESPEARE TAROT
Elizabethans believed in the truth of names. To sixteenth-century ways of thinking the right names for things had been given by God to be found out by Adam. The argument of sixteenth-century astronomers that no new star could be discovered because there would be no name to call it seems less fantastic and remote when we recall doctors refused to accept Freud's clinical proof that men could suffer from hysteria on the grounds that the word was derived from hysterikos [Greek, "of the womb"] and could therefore apply only to women. Elizabethan preachers developed a poetic parallelism on the assumption that where there are two meanings there are two things - words with multiple meanings both bear a transcendental relationship to one another and bare a transcendental relationship. On the same principle, the bearer of a name was everything the name implied. Where there is a name there is a thing; hence, names conjure up things.
The very name Shakespeare conjures up many things. Things given by God, as some like it, for an actor playing Old Adam to name. Or, for others, asked with youthful Juliet's impetuous "What's in a name?", entombment. As any would-be actor holding his horses and perhaps his nose knows, the name for a bit part is spear shaker. Whether as peerage or without peer, the playwright of Dukes and Queens and tainted wethers avenged the patricate. Obliging the noblesse he rattled the peerage and, as someone being tailed, shook observation.
Where there's a will, there's a way - A Tale told by an Idiom
"I am that I am" the Lord told Moses. As did The Lord Great Chamberlain his father-in-law, William Cecil. In the bard's infamous will, he left his wife his second-best bed, begging the question: what had he done with the first? 1st Baron Burghley staged a similar bed-trick on his former ward and son-in-law, and so up-staged the bard - his own two bed-tricks relegated to second-best. To Lord Burghley and other Elizabethans, "Will" was the name commonly used for poets, as shepherds were the poet's symbol - both seen in Spenser's Shepard's Calendar and "our pleasant Willy". Thomas Nashe calls him "Master William, that learned writer of Rhenish Wine & Sugar" who drinks from the "pottle-pot" and "scorns small beer", and "Will. Monox", the man with a "great dagger". As Touchstone tells William: "you are not ipse, for I am he." Or, Will i am. or what you will.
sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans sans - Non Non Sans Droit
Some claim "will" a specifically male attribute. Will Shakespeare, with his troupe of boys dressed as women parading as men, was more circumspect. Nothing if never at a loss for the off-colour, Shake-speare plays on the meaning of will as the male member [cf. Spenser's Willy and Jonson]. Similarly, "nothing" meant vagina to Elizabethan play-goers, from the pit to Regina alike. As Lear says of his heart, his coeur, his cover, his cure, his core Delia, his ordealia, his queen: Nothing will come of nothing.
And so it will, thrice, with much ado; Shake-speare playing on the meaning of nothing as a vagina, through which children come into this world, this earthen O. Women born of women, 3 destined sisters: Miranda, Marina, Perdita.
There comes the Time, as Lear and Burghley's fool knew, who lives to see't, that going shall be us'd with feet. This prophecy Nietzsche shall make -
Man would rather will nothing than not will.
The English language of Shakespeare's time, called Early Modern, appears to many modern readers of English as a foreign language. While well on its way to being normalized, E.M. English words were often spelt phonetically, according to the way the writer heard them - one might even say felt them, as a word's spelling could vary within the span of a sentence. Beyond simple letter structure, what with English being a language based on usage, word meanings themselves often changed significantly over place and time. A word such as "nice" began its life as a description of something silly, while "silly" went in the opposite direction from its original meaning: blessed. The era was also a forge for the creation of new words, often by changing a word's function - from noun to verb, say, or by adding suffixes or prefixes - or by fashioning words from adaptations of foreign languages such as Latin and Greek.
On the other side of all this, the majority of Elizabethans were not only illiterate, but spoke within a fairly narrow lexicon. The unfamiliarity with verbal expression revealed by a character such as Costard, rather than marginalizing the minority, epitomizes the average play-goer of the time. The majority of word play in a comedy such as Love's Labours Lost would indeed be lost in the public theatre, but down-played by academics is the fact Shakespeare's works were performed in private houses, hired venues such as Blackfriars, the Inns of Court, and the Queen's court itself. Performance being perforce a transient thing, much of the word play in Love's Labours Lost is found again in print. What tangibly exists of Shakespeare today is itself made up not only of the author himself but his collaborators, secretaries, prompters, editors, compositors, printer's errors, and, as some have argued, transcribers and memorial reconstructors. Add to these the updated spelling, punctuation, and restructure from line to act, not to mention mountains of gloss and the conflation of multiple texts, and, in short, what we otherwise take as the literal word of God is in truth a carefully sifted hodge-podge creating a crystalline end-product from material fluid, mosaic, sublime.
This palimpsest is analogous to both the Tarot and English itself, where the 3 intersect. That the Tarot itself is a mongrel gallimaufry of intention and accident, meddled with over time and place by diverse peoples experiencing and espying very different and yet very similar things, constitutes its very secret, strength, success.
What we the reader bring to the tarot or Shakespeare or in this case both is what makes the world go around: the fund of human experience which, when audienced by the individual, will shake and appease. The liminal space between thought and deed, embodied in a word, a word like "cleave" - to adhere closely to, to sever along a natural seam.
As plays are meant to be played, along with read and heard, so too is English. The tarot is a tool, a machine of meaning and divination - but it doesn't divine itself. The Shakespeare Tarot is in part an invocation, and in part an invitation, to play. Words themselves are playthings, evincible. The Shakespearean spelling of "vertue" is no accident - or no accident only - but mirror and invention. If in Othello we see hell, or he in Desdemona a demon, they be phantasms of Ego, ghosts come hosts, haunting insofar as pretended away. As ancient Iago, himself the collective unconscious as imago, said:
Vertue? A fig! 'tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus.
Do you not read the white of works? Certainly, those who read only the black of a writing will not have seen anything decisive - but you, read the white, read what I did not write and what is there nonetheless - and then you will find it.
- Abbé Galiani